There is a big difference between select (travel) soccer and recreational soccer. A parent should take their time to understand the differences before they choose one or the other. An educated parent will make the best decision for their young athlete and the family. The cost and time demands of select soccer make it a family decision.
Here are the major differences between recreational and select soccer.
- Select soccer is often a year-round commitment. When a child makes a select soccer team, they are often asked to commit to a full year (fall, winter and spring). Select soccer often conflicts with other sports seasons, so players may need to give up another sport that they love to play select soccer. Conversely, recreational players only commit to one season at a time (fall or spring or both) so they can play other sports.
- Select soccer players play more games. A select team may play 60+ games per year. (20+ games in the fall, 10 indoor games before the winter holidays, 10 indoor games after the holidays, and 20+ more games in the spring). Recreation soccer players will play about 12-15 games per season (fall and spring).
- Select soccer teams travel more. A select team will likely compete in a local league. The league games are typically played close to home unless the team plays in a regional league. Select teams supplement their schedules by participating in one or more travel tournaments per season. Younger select teams (U8, U9 and U10) usually play in one or two travel tournaments per season. Some of these tournaments may require an overnight stay. Older teams (U11+) travel more often. These teams will participate in three to four travel tournaments per season. Serious teams will travel far and wide to find good competition including faraway states and foreign countries.
- Select soccer players get better training. Experienced, paid and licensed coaches and/or trainers typically coach select soccer. Conversely, parents volunteer to coach recreational soccer. The parent coaches may be ex-collegiate soccer players with great experience or they may have very limited knowledge of the game at all. It is important to note that select soccer does not automatically guarantee quality training. Many select clubs require their coaches to be licensed but some don’t. Before you commit your money to a club investigate the credentials of the coaching staff.
- Select players compete with and against better players. The term “select” means that the top players are selected for the team. If you subscribe to the belief that your kid will only get better by playing with and against better players, then select soccer is probably the right place for your child. Highly skilled select players create a more challenging learning environment for each other. It should be noted that, select soccer does not automatically guarantee strong teammates and competition. Many large regional select soccer clubs have multiple competition levels. The highest levels attract the best players and trainers. The lowest level teams in a club may not be any better than a recreational team and therefore may not be worth the money.
- Select soccer teams put a greater emphasis on winning. Good sportsmanship and fun are emphasized over winning in recreational leagues. Recreational teams are usually selected randomly with no evaluations and recreational players are often guaranteed to play 50 percent of every game regardless of skill level or the game situation. Of course, good sportsmanship and fun are goals for select soccer programs too, but select soccer is more competitive. Select teams conduct tryouts and some players may be cut. Playing time is not guaranteed and there is a stronger emphasis on winning games. In many select leagues, a team’s final season record will determine which division (Premier – 1st division, 2nd Division, 3rd Division, etc.) a team plays in the next season. A club’s status is based on how many teams they have in the upper divisions. A club’s status is important for recruiting top players, so, winning is emphasized.
- Select soccer is more costly than recreation soccer. Recreational soccer fees are $40 to $70 per season. This covers the field fees, referee fees and the cost for a numbered cotton uniform tee shirt and matching socks. Select soccer can cost anywhere from $600 per year to $2600+ per year plus travel costs. The trainer, referee, travel tournament and league fees add to the total. Equipment, facility rental and uniform costs contribute as well. Select team uniforms consist of home and away shirts and shorts made of hi-tech materials. Warm-ups, equipment bags and team shoes are often included too.
- A select soccer team may not practice much more than a recreational team. There is a common misconception that select soccer teams practice a lot more than recreational soccer teams. On average, both practice twice per week for about an hour and a half hours per session.
Select soccer is not for every player. Every family needs to make the decision to play or not based on their family situation and the goals of the individual player. Most likely, the coveted high school roster spots will be filled with soccer players who started playing select soccer at a very young age.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule.